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HomemitwocentsPractice Management System – Your most valuable asset!

Practice Management System – Your most valuable asset!

Business consultant Michael Jacobs reflects on lessons learnt from a high profile career in optics, giving mivision his ‘two cents worth’ on the future for independent optometry, Australian-style. In this article he talks about maximising your Practice Management System.

It is difficult to imagine an optometry practice that doesn’t have a Practice Management System (PMS) and I imagine there are very few today who don’t. In Australia there are currently only two realistic options for independent optometry practices; namely Optomate and Sunix. Interestingly both these programs are owned by industry suppliers with Optomate being owned by VSP Australia and Sunix owned by Essilor Australia. Each program claims to be the market leader. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. In terms of capability, both programs provide the same core functionality. Users tend to distinguish between programs based on ease of getting support, ease of use, reliability and unique areas of functionality.

The unfortunate reality is that many practice owners don’t take full advantage of the capability of their PMS so let’s review core functionality and look at what the systems are actually capable of.

Core functionality includes:

Data is your most valuable asset. Develop it, correct it, use it and protect it.

• Cash management
• Practice appointment book
• Processing electronic transactions
• Database for storing patient records
• Inventory records and management
• Reporting
• Marketing

Rather than analyse each category I will only comment on a few areas that in my experience are underutilised or misused. My number one category is the patient database. Yes, most practices do a reasonable job of recording patient names, ages, addresses and Medicare numbers but regrettably it stops there. A patient is much more than a name so let’s look at what else you might record and why.

Patient Records

Mobile Phone Numbers
The vast majority of the population have a mobile phone – yes even your older patients have them – don’t presume that because someone is 70 years old they don’t.

Why is this important? SMS messages are by far the most effective and efficient form of appointment reminder available to you. If you are not using appointment reminders yet, you could be gaining up to 20 per cent greater income simply by minimising appointment no-shows.

SMS messaging is also an inexpensive and effective tool to market to your patients. Probably the best example is sending “use it or lose it” health fund messages to patients prior to health fund year end. All practices must surely be aware of how important the “use it or lose it” messaging is. To be able to deliver this message to the patient in a format that is cheap, concise and with a sense of urgency is vital.

Patients understand and even appreciate the value of appointment reminders and thus are more than willing to provide their mobile number to your receptionist.

Email Addresses
Again, even older patients have email addresses. While patients are often more reluctant to provide their email address for fear of receiving spam, most will admit they are happy to receive emails from the practice if it is meaningful to them personally.

So then, how do you approach the patient and get them to part with their email address? In my experience your receptionist just needs an honest and simple explanation which they can comfortably offer to the patient such as “this practice uses email to communicate important information about your eye health to you in a timely manner. We prefer to do this via email if at all possible so could we have your email address please?”

In my experience most practices have not routinely collected email addresses and are missing a huge opportunity to communicate directly to their patients.

Occupation
Occupation is probably the most underutilised field in the entire patient screen. For many patients it is not even recorded and for others it is recorded in a way that is functionally useless.

A person’s occupation, in many ways, defines who they are and certainly has a significant impact on the type of eye wear they use and how they use it. These two reasons alone make patients’ occupations well worth recording properly and referring back to.

Defining ‘who they are’ guides the optometrist in his recommendations to the patient. Defining ‘the type of eyewear they use and how they use it’ will help you communicate important information to the patient – information that is specific to their occupation.

For example, most tradesmen/women should be made aware of the importance of safety glasses at work and of the existence of scriptable safety glasses. Communicating this information to them via mail or email will be appreciated as it is information that is specific to them. While some optometrists might see this as selling, it is important to put it in context: done correctly, selling is nothing more than providing patients with sufficient information to make informed decisions… which is exactly what you will be doing.

Recording a patient’s occupation correctly is paramount. When you go to search your patient database for tradesmen, how successful will you be when you have entered the following occupations: builder, plumber, electrician, tiler, concreter and so on. The answer is not very successful at all and the lesson is that you must develop a list of occupational categories which are meaningful in the context of eyewear. There should not be more than about 10 to 12 categories in my experience. Examples of categories might be: student, teacher, tradesmen, professional, retiree, health care, retail, manufacturing and so on. Insist on your staff using only these categories and do not allow variations. Better still, create drop down lists for occupations so they can only select from these lists. If more detail is essential, place it in the notes area of the patient file.

Stock Control
In most of the practices I reviewed in my years in independent optometry, the inventory on the PMS bore only a vague resemblance to the inventory actually in the practice. For starters, old, out of date inventory that had been in the back room or the bottom of storage drawers for years was still showing up on the PMS. I suspect that in most cases the owner’s accountant had written off the stock for tax purposes. This should have meant one of two things: the inventory should have been disposed of (donated to Optometry Giving Sight, for example) and removed from the PMS records or written down to zero cost and sold. Surely this is a prime opportunity to use those old frames as incentives for patients to purchase new frames. Run a special: free reading glasses (SV stock) with every pair of spectacles over AU$400. Whatever you do, get those old frames off the premises and off the PMS and make room for stock that will sell.

The next most important task regarding inventory is to ensure that when receiving goods from suppliers, you record the actual discounted practice cost for the item and not the wholesale list price. The quaint but deceptive practice of recording wholesale list prices serves only to mislead owners and managers into poor pricing decisions and thus poor sales results.

Protect and Back Up
You insure your practice against fire and theft yet you still lock the doors when you leave of an evening… what are you doing to protect your most valuable asset – your data?

Like inventory or equipment, the data in your PMS is a valuable asset on an operational level as well as an asset when selling a practice. Good, current, accurate data in a PMS is possibly the most valuable asset the practice has and thus it is important to protect. And remember, it is not just equipment failure that causes loss of data. Viruses and Trojans are more likely causes.

Just as you get a locksmith in to fit new locks to your doors, it’s important to get a professional in to set up and implement effective protective measures for your data.

You need a firewall to minimise the probability of unwanted intruders getting into your system; you need a reputable antivirus/anti malware program installed and operational at all times; and just as importantly, you need to train your staff in safe online procedures.

Finally and critically, you need a reliable backup system for your data. Remember, if you are backing up to a hard disk locally, you need a new hard disk for each day of the working week because the current backup can easily be destroyed by the very same virus that took out the primary computer. A better option, if practical, is to back up to an online (cloud) facility specifically designed for this purpose. This has the added advantage that if your practice were to burn to the ground your data would still be protected. Again professional advice
is paramount.

Data is your most valuable asset. Develop it, correct it, use it and protect it.

Michael Jacobs is a business consultant and columnist for mivision. He was the former Chief Executive Officer of Eyecare Plus for 10 years until early 2015.

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